Friday I set out to help a friend find an apartment. By the evening, a huge (9.0 magnitude; 4th largest on record since 1900) earthquake had struck northeastern Japan and I was sleeping in a cafe in Tokyo. I'll try to remember what all of it was like in this post...
Sitting in the realtor's in the early afternoon on Friday afternoon, I noticed the lights moving a slight bit. As Japan is a country of earthquakes, I didn't think much of it. I said to my friend, Michelle, "hey, an earthquake." I was calm. Until the lights began swaying more violently and the shaking didn't end readily. Michelle and I moved out from under the swaying lights as across the street the high schoolers began pouring out of the karaoke shop. At about the same time, tiles began falling off the buildings outside and falling, breaking on the sidewalks. That's one of the reasons we didn't rush out of the building. After the shaking stopped, we went back to our seats, had a bit of tea (trying to settle stomachs after the long duration of the quake), and renewed the search for apartments.
After a few aftershocks, there came another very large quake. This time we ran out into the middle of the street (to avoid falling tiles) and watched as the buildings around us swayed back and forth. Having two large quakes back to back like that was crazy, but at this point we had no idea how bad the quake really had been.
We even headed out to look at one apartment before calling it a day and making an appointment for Michelle to go back the next day (she went back today, two days after the quake).
Since the trains were all stopped we started walking in the direction of the Palace (near Tokyo Station) to where Shimon and I had agreed to meet should an earthquake strike and we're stranded. However, we still had no idea how bad things were. We thought that after walking a little while we'd be able to hop on a train to get to our final destination. Boy were we wrong....
We walked to Kagurazaka, where I stopped into a convenience store to check a map and make sure we were setting a course that wouldn't get us lost. But we failed to realize that we should probably buy some food too. We walked on, hoping at some point that we could flag down an empty taxi... but there were none. By this time we'd been walking for over an hour.
We stopped to wait for a bus for about 10 minutes. When it hadn't come after waiting 5 minutes past it's arrival time, we kept walking.
We finally reached Yasukuni Dori (street) and there was a wave of people walking away from downtown Tokyo (the business district is near where we were headed). Some people wearing crash helmets and other carrying them. The road was positively brimming with cars and other vehicles... lots of rescue vehicles and taxis!
As we we walking close to the Palace (at last!), the Mainichi Shinbun was handing out short 4-page leaflets on the earthquake. After more than 3 hours of no outside information we were both shocked to see the pictures... our "inconvenience" was a major disaster!
At long last, after 3 hours+ of walking, we reached the cafe where Shimon was waiting. It turned out he had tried to call me all afternoon... my phone never rang once. Phone connections were down. We did manage a few texts, but they were delayed and they only arrived when I searched for new mails.
He had bought some sustenance, however after listening to the radio updates (trains and subways down, etc.) he went out to get more food. He got enough for the people around us who were sharing in the "adventure."
Two ladies were originally sketching in Hibiya Park when the quake hit. Another two were a mother and son. The son had been job hunting and had met up with his mom after. We sat around listening to Shimon give us reports from the radio for most of the evening.
Originally the cafe said that the heating would be shut off, but that people were allowed to stay inside for shelter. As the evening enfolded, the heating was not turned off. The staff (who were also stuck there) provided us with tea and later coffee and snacks. There was an open area set up for a wedding, but we were told to put 3-4 chairs together and try to get some sleep if we wanted to. We ended up going to bed at around 11... I actually slept quite well. That's what walking 3 hours straight will do!
In the morning, the main manager of the cafe announced that they would be making us all breakfast. We had toast, eggs, coffee, and orange juice. It's in times of distress that humanity seems to be redeemed... and I was able to experience that firsthand Friday night/Saturday morning.
This turned into a very long post, so I've decided to write it in two parts.
Tomorrow we have rolling blackouts. I have no idea when mine begins, but we all have to do our part to save energy. I'll just take a nap! :-)
Please keep Japan in your thoughts and prayers right now... there's a lot going on and it's pretty overwhelming for everyone here.